402 U.S. 535 (1971), 5586, Bell v. Burson

Docket Nº:No. 5586
Citation:402 U.S. 535, 91 S.Ct. 1586, 29 L.Ed.2d 90
Party Name:Bell v. Burson
Case Date:May 24, 1971
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 535

402 U.S. 535 (1971)

91 S.Ct. 1586, 29 L.Ed.2d 90




No. 5586

United States Supreme Court

May 24, 1971

Argued March 23, 1971



Georgia's Motor Vehicle Safety Responsibility Act, which provides that the motor vehicle registration and driver's license of an uninsured motorist involved in an accident shall be suspended unless he posts security for the amount of damages claimed by an aggrieved party and which excludes any consideration of fault or responsibility for the accident at a pre-suspension hearing held violative of procedural due process. Before Georgia, whose statutory scheme significantly involves the issue of liability, may deprive an individual of his license and registration, it must provide a procedure for determining the question whether there is a reasonable possibility of a judgment's being rendered against him as a result of the accident. Pp. 539-543.

121 Ga.App. 418, 174 S.E.2d 235, reversed and remanded.

BRENNAN, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which DOUGLAS, HARLAN, STEWART, WHITE, and MARSHALL, JJ., joined. BURGER, C.J., and BLACK and BLACKMUN, JJ., concurred in the result.

BRENNAN, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE BRENNAN delivered the opinion of the Court.

Georgia's Motor Vehicle Safety Responsibility Act provides that the motor vehicle registration and driver's

Page 536

license of an uninsured motorist involved in an accident shall be suspended unless he posts security to cover the amount of damages claimed by aggrieved parties in reports of the accident.1 The administrative hearing conducted prior to the suspension excludes consideration [91 S.Ct. 1588] of the motorist's fault or liability for the accident. The Georgia Court of Appeals rejected petitioner's contention that the State's statutory scheme, in failing before suspending the licenses to afford him a hearing on the question of his fault or liability, denied him due process in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment: the court

Page 537

held that "`Fault' or `innocence' are completely irrelevant factors." 121 Ga.App. 418, 420, 174 S.E.2d 235, 236 (1970). The Georgia Supreme Court denied review. App. 27. We granted certiorari. 400 U.S. 963 (1970). We reverse.

Petitioner is a clergyman whose ministry requires him to travel by car to cover three rural Georgia communities. On Sunday afternoon, November 24, 1968, petitioner was involved in an accident when five-year-old Sherry Capes rode her bicycle into the side of his automobile. The child's parents filed an accident report with the Director of the Georgia Department of Public Safety indicating that their daughter had suffered substantial injuries for which they claimed damages of $5,000. Petitioner was thereafter informed by the Director that, unless he was covered by a liability insurance policy in effect at the time of the accident, he must file a bond or cash security deposit of $5,000 or present a notarized release from liability, plus proof of future financial responsibility,2 or suffer the suspension of his driver's license and vehicle registration. App. 9. Petitioner requested an administrative hearing before the Director asserting that he was not liable as the accident was unavoidable, and stating also that he would be severely handicapped in the performance of his ministerial duties by a suspension of his licenses. A hearing was scheduled, but the Director informed petitioner that

[t]he only evidence that the Department can accept and consider is: (a) was the petitioner or his vehicle involved in the accident; (b) has petitioner complied with the provisions of the Law as provided; or (c) does petitioner come within

Page 538

any of the exceptions of the Law.

App. 11.3 At the administrative hearing, the Director [91 S.Ct. 1589] rejected petitioner's proffer of evidence on liability, ascertained that petitioner was not within any of the statutory exceptions, and gave petitioner 30 days to comply with the security requirements or suffer suspension. Petitioner then exercised his statutory right to an appeal de novo in the Superior Court. Ga.Code Ann. § 92A-602 (1958). At that hearing, the court permitted petitioner to present his evidence on liability, and, although the claimants were neither parties nor witnesses, found petitioner free from fault. As a result, the Superior Court ordered

that the petitioner's driver's license not be suspended . . . [until] suit is filed against petitioner for the purpose of recovering damages for the injuries sustained by the child. . . .

App. 15. This order was reversed...

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